Normally this would not be worth reporting: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the precociously arrogant Paris St-Germain striker, has become almost a parody of himself in recent seasons, a $40 million combination of skill, ego and self-promotion.
More of which later.
But for once this isn’t all about him. Read the story behind his new body art below, and find out why Ibrahimovic is still one of the most talked-about footballers in the world.
Zlatan took off his shirt at the weekend after scoring in PSG’s match against French side Caen, revealing some daring new ink work.
But it was all part of an elaborate stunt to boost awareness of the work of charity the World Food Programme. The tattoo featured names of 50 of the 805 million people the World Food programme estimate are suffering from hunger in the world.
“Wherever I go people recognise me, call my name, cheer me. But there are names no one cheers for”, the Swede said in a video explaining the body art. “If I could, I would write every single name on my body. But there are 805 million people suffering from hunger in the world today… So whenever you hear my name, you will think of their names. Whenever you see me, you will see them.”
Incidentally, his manager Laurent Blanc had told him not to take his shirt off during the Champions League match. “Imagine if the game had become more heated and that he’d got a second yellow card,” Blanc said.
Made of steel
A bit of background for those blissfully unaware of Zlatan’s ego. His wage at French champions PSG is said to be an eye-watering (even for football) £925,000 a week, and business magazine Forbes estimated his 2014 earnings to be over $40 million.
But it’s the myth rather than the money surrounding Ibrahimovic that is most intriguing.
A post shared by IAmZlatan (@iamzlatanibrahimovic) on
His social media activity like the post above is a prime example. How would you feel if you met a waxwork of yourself? Embarrassed? Confused? Humble? Not Zlatan. Check out the caption in the Instagram selfie. Nothing humble about this brag.
I am the boss
Zlatan’s relationship with the media could generously be described as “sparky”. The most recent skirmish took place following a PSG match at the beginning of February. Ibrahmovic led his PSG teammates through the media zone without stopping. “Follow me, follow me. Nobody talks,” he told the ducklings trailing in his wake. Why nobody talk? “Because I am the boss.”
Only one Zlatan
It has always been thus. In 2004, just before he moved from Dutch side Ajax to Italian team Juventus, he gave the following interview…
There is surely nothing more self-important than referring to yourself in the third person.
All this talk about what goes on off the pitch might make you think that Zlatan doth protest too much. If only it were that simple.
Remember for example this goal for Sweden against England in a 2012 friendly?
Or this for PSG against Bologna in 2013?
Or this right at the start of his career for Ajax?
Or these two for Juve against Palermo in 2008?
We’ll stop now – but you can keep going here if you like.
In 2014 Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter ranked the country’s greatest ever sports stars. Ibrahimovic came… second, behind five-time Wimbledon tennis champion Bjorn Borg.
Zlatan was not happy. “Thank you, but to finish second is like finishing last,” he said when told the news, adding that if he were to rank Sweden’s greatest athletes, “I would have been number one, two, three, four and five, with due respect to the others.”
It’s good to talk
in 2014 Zlatan held a Twitter Q&A. Here are some of the best lines – and no, before you ask this is not a parody account.
Hi @Twitter. For tomorrow Zlatan needs more than 140 characters. Please change rules for Zlatan #DareToZlatan
This Tuesday Ibrahimovic reunites with his former manager Jose Mourinho as Chelsea take on PSG in the Champions League. Zlatan played under Mourinho at Inter MIlan for one season in 2008/9, before the striker moved to Barcelona.
Mourinho clearly made an impression on Zlatan, unlike his later manager at Barca Pep Guardiola. In his autobiography I am Zlatan (yep, another self-effacing title), Zlatan claims, “If Mourinho lights up a room, Guardiola draws the curtains.”
He adds that he was “willing to die for” Mourinho, and that the manager made a good impression on him (and his family) right from the off: “The first time he met my partner Helena, he whispered to her: ‘Helena, you have only one mission: Feed Zlatan, let him sleep, keep him happy’. That guy says whatever he wants. I like him. He’s the leader of his army.”
Their reunion in the Champions League will be fascinating to watch.